In Review

Podcasts of the week: painting, catfish, and the Land of Nod

Featuring Sweet Bobby, Slow Radio, PleinAir, Sleep With Me and Goodnight, World!

The late American artist Bob Ross became something of a cult figure during the pandemic, owing to the revival on BBC4 of his wonderfully therapeutic The Joy of Painting TV show, originally aired between 1983 and 1994. “Unsurprisingly, the Bob Ross phenomenon has started to spill over into audio,” said Daisy Dunn in The Spectator.

There are a few podcasts around assembling clips from his series, but more interesting are two that owe something to his style. In Learn to Paint the artist Kelly Anne Powers provides Ross-like tutorials, “with her gentle tone an encouragement to be kind to ourselves as artists”.

PleinAir with Eric Rhoads is a bit more highbrow, and is, as its name suggests, focused on painting outdoors. I’d also recommend Everything but the Flame, hosted by magician Nate Staniforth. Its focus is magic, rather than art, but it explores the imaginative drive and creative spirit – and I found it rather inspiring.

Sweet Bobby, a new six-part podcast from Tortoise Media, is a “gripping tale of complex online catfishery”, said Miranda Sawyer in The Observer. It’s the story of Kirat Assi, a “sweet-natured” British Sikh woman who fell victim to a long-running online deception by a man using a stolen identity – a “catfish”.

In the words of the presenter and reporter Alexi Mostrous, what followed was a “screwed-up, crazy kind of love story filled with death, lies and witness-protection programmes”. At times, I felt so frustrated by Assi’s failure to cut ties with the faker, I found myself “shouting at the air”. But Sweet Bobby is “a show I will definitely follow until the end. Fake Bobby has pulled me in too.”

The recent boom in “sleep podcasts” has provided plenty of options for people looking for help nodding off, said Elle Hunt in The Guardian. The Headspace mindfulness app has produced Sleepcasts – “audio journeys” lasting about 45 minutes that begin with a meditation or breathing exercise, before trying to send you to sleep with “an audio tour through a soothing scene”.

Drew Ackerman started his long-established podcast Sleep With Me with the intention of boring people to sleep. In his naturally slow speaking voice, he tells a “circular and confused story that you will never hear the end of”. Those who find speech intrusive could try BBC Radio 3’s Slow Radio series: it features soothing field recordings from the natural world.

Lastly, for those with restless children, there is Goodnight, World!, a partnership between Headspace and Sesame Street. I recommended it to a friend. He reported back that his three-year-old son was asleep by the time the 20-minute episode finished.

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